By Juliette Goodrich & Molly McCrea
The canine flu is now rapidly spreading in Southern California. Bay Area experts tell us it is only a matter of time before this virus moves further north into the Bay Area.
Roughly 800 confirmed and suspected cases are reported. Seven dogs have died so far. Canine flu is highly contagious and it's often misdiagnosed.
The Lacher family in Southern California almost lost their dog and wanted to share their story with KPIX 5 and the Bay Area viewers.
Brian Lacher always wanted a puppy, and the pandemic was the perfect time to get one. An adorable golden retriever named Blue came into their lives.
"Blue is just like a member of the family. We got him during COVID, so it was obviously a very stressful time, and I was working from home and the kids weren't going to school. And Blue brought us all together," explained Brian.
"He's very, very lovable, very spirited," explained Monica Lacher, Brian's mother.
When restrictions eased up, the family took a short weekend trip, and boarded Blue for a few days at a kennel that was highly rated on Yelp.
But when the Lachers picked up the 10-month-old puppy, something was off. Blue was very lethargic.
"I figured he was just tired you know playing with all the different dogs he's just a puppy," said Brian.
Once home, Blue refused to eat or drink. When night came, the nightmare began.
"At about two in the morning we heard Blue have this atrocious cough," recalled Brian. "It sounded like he was dying. It started with a cough and it kind of turned into something like he was gasping for air."
"The puppy was clearly in distress, so my son wrapped him up to take him to urgent care," added Monica.
Urgent care was overrun with sick dogs. Blue was misdiagnosed with kennel cough and sent home with antibiotics. But his condition further worsened, further alarming his family.
"He was basically lifeless, couldn't get up. Wouldn't eat, wouldn't drink, wouldn't acknowledge any of us walking into the room petting him," recollected Brian.
His family got Blue into his own vet's office, where they ran tests. Blue was finally diagnosed with a strain of canine influenza known as H3N2.
"I had no idea that canine flu existed," explained Brian. "I obviously knew about COVID and the dangers that that had."
With this current outbreak, most of the cases are associated with boarding kennels or doggie daycares. But experts report that some dogs got infected while on walks, at dog parks, the groomers, or even at the vet's office.
The virus spreads when dogs get into close contact with each other.
"I would be very surprised if it doesn't come to the Bay Area. To me, it's just a matter of time," explained Nicolette Zarday, hospital medical director for the San Francisco SPCA.
She told KPIX 5 that the virus can be prevented with a canine flu vaccine. It requires an initial two doses, given about three weeks apart, with annual boosters.
SF SPCA pharmacy supervisor Edward Vallecillo got his two dogs vaccinated. 11-year-old Tempe and 10-year-old Kay are part of his family.
"I would be very sad and depressed if anything happened to them," said Vallecillo.
The pandemic lockdown delayed many dog owners from getting their dogs boostered, and while no vaccine is 100% effective, the more dogs vaccinated, the lower the risk for all.
"I would highly recommend it even if your boarding facility doesn't recommend it," said SF SPCA President Dr. Jennifer Scarlett.
Blue has completely recovered and Brian has this advice for all dog owners.
"It would be prudent of you to get your animal vaccinated and become aware of canine influenza," said the young father.
Signs of dog flu include runny nose, cough and a fever. But some dogs show no symptoms at all. Dogs can shed the virus for up to 30 days.
This strain of dog flu is believed to have begun in birds and jumped to dogs, first seen in the United States in 2015. Soon after, we saw a mass push to vaccinate pets.
There is no evidence that humans become sick with canine flu. But there have been some cases where cats have gotten sick.
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